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FAMILIAR FACES PRIVATE GRIEF
Revised 2011 Edition
Acknowledgments Poems in this collection also appeared in Active Voice, Alberta Poetry Yearbook, The Antigonish Review, Ariel, Athanor, The Blotter, Canadian Literature, Clarity Between Clouds, Cross-Canada Writers= Quarterly, Descant, Erindale Review, Exchanges Between Us: More Intergenerational Connections Germination, The Longship Review, The Malahat Review, Mamashee, The New Quarterly, Of Cabbages & Kings (6X FM Radio, London), OSSTF Forum, Other Channels, Parthenon Poetry Anthology, Pierian Spring, Poetry Canada Review, Prism International, Quarry, Secrets from the Orange Couch, sendecki.com, Simcoe Review, Songs from the North, Spare Words, The Squatchberry Journal, A Tapestry in Six Textures, The Third Taboo, Tower, Treeline, West Coast Review, Where the Light Waits, Whetstone, White Wall Review, Wordloom, and Ygdrasil. Second Digital Edition ISBN 978-0-920835-38-8 Copyright © 2011 by Susan Ioannou. First Digital Edition ISBN 978-0-920835-26-5 Copyright © 2005 by Susan Ioannou. First Print Edition ISBN 978-0-920835-01-2 Copyright © 1986 by Susan Ioannou All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author. Wordwrights Canada www.wordwrights.ca firstname.lastname@example.org
Leaving For My Husband Plaza: Late December Giagia The Widows Gathering Eileen and Jean In Your Light In Memory of Sophia Maniates 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 33 34 35 37 .Familiar Faces 1 2 3 4 Mosaic Editorial A Critic‟s Choice Writers: Collaborators Rival Poets A Literary Affair Coffee House Reading First Writing Workshop Chaucer Class Dropout Metaphors to My Students Valedictory Daedalus‟ Last Words to Icarus Lake Simcoe with My Father July Beach Welcome Couplets for Poet and Pianist Lace Le Misérable Aunty Mary Jane Elder Wire Mrs. Minton Confides Convalescent Waves Kathleen Marshall Fast Exit Adjuster.
Private Grief 39 49 41 42 43 Miserere You Are There Elegy Glimpsing the Dark Advance Elegies: My Mother and Me Father and I Faces Somewhere Between Reflections. on Hearing a Crow Caw Prayer for Grandma Zoe Four Poems for Greta Ebel: Last Words The Angel of Death Visits Inheritances At Greta‟s Last Days Gone Visitation The Funeral Mourner Angelicide Memoriam Three Poems for My Father: When 77th Birthday Dinner February 1985 The Green Room Home Going Afterlife Ancestors 45 47 48 49 50 55 56 58 59 60 60 61 63 66 67 69 70 .
without whom .For Merla . . . . . .
larger than life she waits. Byzantine. Deep in thick Persian carpet patterns genuflect. in off-white silk elegant. among the hanging ferns she waits. elongated. Byzantine in a godless age. while glass. Icons of singleness consecrate her walls: a lover‟s bamboo fan. gold table legs lift up old cognac. And smiling. coral rosebuds taking communion in a crystal vase. two pen-and-inks of Cambridge. Vogue cover in gilt frame.Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 1 Familiar Faces Mosaic Smiling. . Across the evening stillness Mahler chants. Brown bandana pillows sink upon beige velvet as the sofa kneels.
the ragged right and left of love. . serene. Corrected. sipping iced tea. emotions pencilled blue.Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 2 Editorial Facing blankness at thirty-eight. she edits into black and white preface. corners straight. notes and index. fit in efficient solitude. she disdains passion‟s smudge. drumming awkward lust into asphalt. but is void of contents. how life is pasted to a page. manless. or a happy ending for herself. Four times a day she runs. Childless. Now explains. before her private metal desk she sits down undismayed.
. play hypnotic games with jewelled eyes. she shivers black and yellow diamonds as I read. my prey her strained intent. intruder on her frightened sands. forked tongue flicking tact. or slither soundless. I too must writhe. serpentine away towards Eden. and change my speckles brown to green to suit her mood. Her venom drips.Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 3 A Critic’s Choice Snake coiled to attack. Will I approve? Will I condemn? Or must she strike me first Cin self-defence? I too am forced to coil.
. A Literary Affair You make love to me with your Voice and I respond in multiple poems.Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 4 Writers 1. Collaborators We keep our work between usC a bridge and a barrier. Rival Poets Two itchy bears rubbing egos like ragged rumps against each other 3. 2.
robots clap relief as one more ends and their turn edgesCcloser.Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 5 Coffee House Reading Egos and nerves. . poets hunch tight over little tables.) Earless. wondering. just want a beer. “When will I get to read?” Another open set? “I got a bus to catch!” (Really. shuffling poems.
the subtle violets whose practised growing turns shadows into light. like rain. “What is a metaphor?” Where rain grows sun. keep reaching higher. and past and future root within one moment. as if you are the only one. I know. . You want to shoot thorns into the gardener‟s palm. pink. by many other names. We all dig the same who garden our passions among weeds. What briar beauty awaits your breaking through. Rose. white. I‟ve watched you burst to spread your petals red and wide. Instead. already flared. but when sheers snip a twigCit stings! Green stems bend back. you drop and hide dismayed sap bleeds. match daisies‟ ease. Rose. you uncurl poems toward the light.Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 6 First Writing Workshop (for Rose) A rose by any other name. sophisticated iris. Like mauve. in words. you want to share the garden‟s tint and scent.
then dream themselves away upon a smile. though May I‟d long forgotten. the nights we gorged on kisses till we hurt and drank ourselves to bed with promises. lolling on the crooks of elbows. Tumbling leaves curl dry. sag-shouldered and distended belly. so very married. gluttony and greed. the two stretch closer. Across the touching desks. the Miller‟s Handy Nicholas and Alisoun before the flood. middle-aged and stagnant.Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 7 Chaucer Class: a Tale of Middle Age “The Pardoner=s Tale” drones on. Hands share scribbles on a single paper to quell the arms from reaching to embrace. though outwardly still golden. Profane delightCtwenty years ago? I‟m not the Merchant‟s January yet. all “Amor Vincit Omnia”. September nudges. He‟s gat-toothed like the Wyf of Bathe and she a coy Madame Eglantyne. . every hill and valley of the body plundered and its pleasures won. They listen for a moment to my drone. ponder the Pardoner‟s words: lust. And I. I miss his ageless sins.
What have I done? What have I not done to change your mind? Where did you learn that whine? A motto of the toughest school downtown? A mouthful that you swallowed with the guys while drinking drafts? Or a back-street hawker‟s con barking up your neon night? Are you prepared for life or for an overdrawn account? Will forty see you Chairman of the Board or simply bought? And ever after happy? Or instead threadbare of meaning. breathing hollow in an empty room. will devalued. bankrupt when you face internal audit? Whose words will you quote then? Or will you smash the next guy‟s dream and deal him double what you got? .Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 8 Dropout “The most important thing in life is money.” you insist.
so much to gain (and so much lost) upon each rung. how beautiful you are! Heed my voice: pull the hours from your ears. hide thickened. . the hand grips harder. Hips heavy. I am half done. rejoice. Few stars in my eyes when the sun settles down past four in the afternoon. You just begin. mind wrinkled. you lineless and lucent. You down there. You star-dazzled climbers of the morning.Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 9 Metaphors to My Students One up on you and nearer to myself (to death still dearer) I‟ll rock time‟s ladder. Where you stand the ascent is long.
beyond no-drinking-at-the-fountain-oropening-lockers-until-lunch. beyond these grey walls there is joy. not just pass or fail. Want Cso much awaits you. . beyond projects overdue. Pebbles roar in chorus on the shore. Reach and find yourself.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /10 Valedictory Don‟t believe them. Arc into a clear unknown! . You don=t need them. Don‟t believe them. . words break open music in the mind. Buds swell into apples. Caterpillars graduate to rainbows. There are three dimensions. There is more! If I could tell you where . colours rock the eye. beyond 3 1/2 hours nightly recommended study. Delight breath perfumes the body. Beyond texts and tests.
squawking at first. higher. . nakedness plunging through the sky. I shone along your flaming hair Cthen watched mortal explode into infinity. sun-bold and swift as light. Invisible to all but me you soared one with the blue. then flapping higher.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /11 Daedalus’ Last Words to Icarus Love made me push you past yourself. out of your lizard skin off mottled rocks.
broke toward sky with a shout at winds howling. Gulls soared and swooped. Swirled into ebb‟s pull and thrash. Yelling. shoving the surface high into swells. faster and faster higher crests galloping up.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /12 Lake Simcoe with My Father Down rocks. not fear what a down-swell brought. and I learned to ride on the moment‟s rolling. toward water slapping. clouds racing on wind. then crashed out in foam. . we ran. harder each time. Leaping. we thundered straight in. I threw myself after. back Father flung onto the topple and smashing. sky not the blue my mother and sister would squint at crouched on the dock‟s weedy steps. round I wriggled. peaked. but iron grey bearing down. toward a crest. Outspreading arms like an angel. waves rose. White hair dissolved into froth. Stiffened to jello. Torrents flashed as I hurled down. shoulders churned over soft sand. Foam in my nose. Again and again we heaved ourselves out.
a son with me.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /13 Growing up means swimming alone or taking a daughter. . over the rocks to run for the highest waves and dive toward our own beyond.
Warm green waves sprawl. . Sun vibrates. thighs glisten. Seagulls droop. Primordial steam. Bronze mounds radiate red yellow heat. Light blurs shape.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /14 July Beach Oiled breasts. Day dissolves.
. . Gone down the block. .Familiar Faces / Private Grief /15 Welcome Alma & Verne welcome you with their names swinging from little black chains on a postcard lawn. hee. Come on in wrought iron curls up white steps to the porch. . A breeze rushes off the lake. through the lace curtains‟ rustle. cut-out geese whirl. CDid Alma & Verne say goodbye? Only the wind hears them whisper behind the pane‟s potted fern. Come on in a pansy-filled swan floats at the edge of the walk. But now a marmalade cat brushing your knee. meows. Hee. it skips over the gravelled drive. Come on home. Waving by hedges. a lawn squirrel squeaks. Three wooden skunks won=t budge. you hear the pansy-filled swan. Spin-ninn. Come on in geraniums nod over a red window box.
his chords ripple her dreams. Andante to allegretto —what will the third‟s tempo be? May octaves rhyme into sestets. and verses sing harmonies. old lovers creating new couplets to gracefully play out the years. Two movements performed together shared intricate leitmotifs. . Her images lighten his fingers. She accents his measure. he. the variations on her theme. his signature marks her key.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /16 Couplets for Poet and Pianist (for a wedding anniversary) She is the words to his music. Each honours the thoughtful caesura between the other‟s beats.
fine borders. gift after gift Thea* Helene crochets: web-light doilies for her favourite‟s far away. Across an ocean. Thea Helene takes comfort. two women. Greek. day after day. Wherever chryso mou—her “golden one”—smoothes lace on a polished dresser or chair. . lighten death * Thea is the Greek word meaning Aunt. Canadian interconnect filaments dainty as pulse. Each loop. Arachne‟s straggling fly. foreign wife. Their love tightens in unsnappable threads. a moment remembered.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /17 Lace As winter stiffens quivering hands.
arthritic knees. laughs down their small truths. . Frog. then slashes down his list: teacher. sworn deaf and blind. To fight back is futile Ca screaming tantrum with closed mind. bleed. back a stiff confusion of wires and pins. The women know: they‟ve watched each other grind against frustration.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /18 Le Misérable He has the desperate certainty of a man cheated by life: two canes. Upon his groaning metal chair he reigns absolute. setting her lips. thin steel. postie. Jew-boy. Each Friday night at ballet class the mothers cringe. eh?” He chuckles to the silenced room. copC he jabs obliquely some close corner in each woman‟s life. “Women stir up problems and men solve „em. upon cold rage. and head braced high.
Pane after pane she slammed shut. watching her watch herself locked in. Never permit one inch out of place. Night after night. she listened to moments falling between shadows and moon dust under a smoothed bed. Never let chaos in. Shadows resettled in corners and cupboards. In her drawer. breathing and breathing her dizzy from window to window. One morning she felt the lilacs breathing her in. ticking metal hearts spun their hands. white slips not touching white socks.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /19 Aunty Every room in her house had its clock. not an inch. white nightgowns lay down in a row. Behind glass. .
house snug as gingerbread. Love baked apples. Peace was a thimble of wine. She cross-stitched samplers pink with truth. found faith in fresh-scrubbed floors. . steaming bread. patchwork quilts. small gardens where dreams could vegetate and weeds never strangled vines. aproned forever into her daffodil mind.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /20 Mary Jane Elder Jangled from winter she tried to mark out life in quiet squares: hopscotch games. One quiet day she disappeared.
The only password is love. inside the ear. 1 times 3 equals 9. and sparks an inside-out universe where images leap helter-skelter like cat-and-dog rain crowding the sky. . or vibrates at a frequency higher than calm. Down jumps up. it loses touch with the sun arcing through noon to night. lodged in a corner of the eye or a voice knocking on the wall. wings pounding.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /21 Wire When a mind is a fragile wire that bends too far. Words nest on unfolded palms. littering unsteady ground. insistent enough to wrench the mind back through a lens of frozen stars to calm‟s other end right-side up. and across dives somewhere between. C follows Z. or caw zigzags across the page to flock. The right-angle world hums on out there. patient enough to pause.
my hands grow fingers from clawsC I pick my way between heart beats. show nothing. pictures becalmed behind glassC As long as reality squares off into three meals a day. but smile thinly and nod at the world through a web. swarming black shawls over my consciousness. if I can remember the cure: ride out the maelstrom of voices. As long as the old women go and I awaken to sunlight wiping ashen streets cleanC As long as fat walls become straight. .Familiar Faces / Private Grief /22 Mrs. serve tea. Minton Confides When the Fear comes and hunched into bony shoulders gnarled hags hiss. I sit tight. write letters. mend socks and arrange graceful clusters of flowers fresh for my dining room table.
I felt a smooth dappled froglet spring from the wide. Orange juice is my sun in a little glass. I look at the quiet carnations. cling to simplicities. trees. memory. Lighter than yellowed leaves on the wind. Behind me the locked white rooms. white as this gleaming breakfast table. I shall smoke a cigarette. through thick grass. long I had climbed. splashing too dizzy to waggle sideways to the edge of calm. fresh. Plunging breathless we broke on the water. cup water. the blue napkin‟s silver ring a piston that moves the sky to spread across my lazy horizon‟s lap. kerchunk to none but lost children —firm as a white coffee mug. nightgowns cold with sweat. I accept my limitations. flat stones. Now silence glows in this space between flowers. the pull of trees leafing the empty whiteness of plates. and smash against the leaning cliffs of longing.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /23 Convalescent “My last hill remembered. rush me high into joy.” . sift hard pebbles from sand at the river‟s bend.
Relentless patience. spill. arise. withdraw again to shifting pools. A deeper centre impels. Rising slowly with wind‟s cry. then froth. hiss blue-black spray from sudden clouds. they mount. Crests tatter. run out. wide they surge. Forward. Cold fury smashes against your legs. Possessed. soon horizontal cliffs. rage.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /24 Waves (for Elizabeth) Cold as morning sand waves‟ long white tongues slide beneath your chair. Sky falls dark. . cling to His rock lost wings batter—or break. return. they pull and push. lace. back.
Come to the flowerbeds. Tulips remember only tomorrow. You were easy in that light: chandeliers. Leave regret to its lost dreams: trains rushing the high black trestle. is warm. this garden. Geneva. crystal. pull old roots from cedar-thick shadows wrapping the morning‟s stillness—the sun burns through the deepest windows. white linen stiff beneath Mozart and wine. nudes leaning flesh from long gilded walls until age tore them down. from town plunging into the blue-banked clouds toward New York. A simpler music. The grass. You moved among leather-bound books. reds bobbing over the sunken sill tangled with wet-earth scents. Rome. but enough. With love‟s long. though worn. silver. enough—hum! . Kathleen. slow hum come stalk the flowerbeds.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /25 Kathleen Marshall Widen the window. faded forget-me-not among yellows.
croakin‟. pitched a closetful of boots =n shoes. express whistles. These days Sturdwell‟s got the greenest grass in town. and when no one was lookin‟. in orange striped pyjamas. Dang cat squatted down. kitty. “Here. Sturdwell‟s darlin‟ tiger. blacker „n new gifts and crimes.m. like a mongrel. watchin‟ birds. . Grinnin‟ like a crazy man. eager to nip his hand. washin‟ her silk ears. and ripped the ear near off Sandy. pitched sack and Gus hard on a fast freight for Vancouver. Sandy sprawls in sunshine. the old man stomped and yelled. strung a dozen cans on Gus‟s tail. even fired his shotgun illegal. and Sturdwell grins from sleep as the 2:00 a. Gus come back.” When Gus snuck up. Sturdwell stuffed him in an onion sack. dropped his dark gift always on the greenest patch of lawn. Begonias took second in Sunday=s garden show. “I got it!” Eyes agleam. One night Sturdwell whooped awake. Nothin‟ scared that animal. three times a week at least. kitty. he crouched in the dirt. he hacked up a hunka fresh liver and under full moon.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /26 Fast Exit Old man Sturdwell hated Gus like blisters. murdered prize begonias. Well. in raincoat and slippers he hiked them half a mile to the CNR yards.
No more will I sort and assign their eccentricities: Policy Lapsed Claim Closed Beware of Dog Pulled out they dream their phantom pages leaf. riderless reinstatements contesting death.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /27 Adjuster.” . burning past settlements. Leaving “My office echoes. straight drawers gaping. their ghostly passions file Fire. filing cabinets lean. Against the dark. Theft under „G‟Cfor Gone. flower into a highway of white coffee-stained words speed down. a grey box dusty with privacy. skidding the corners of risk. Negligence. their long. Slammed back on themselves.
crooked as mismatched shoes. sixty years grim will we become that couple. yet ironically comfortable? . irritably scrawny: scowl. two shadows at odds.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /28 For My Husband Shuffling through plazas. hang familiar as faults worn into withered skin? Will we peer through glass walls and strain to fix each other colder than price-tags.
snowsuits. carols flashing Christmas off wide tinselled walls. bright red and green. Although they clasp each other=s hands. cotton his white fantasy for age. nod.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /29 Plaza: Late December Propped along a plastic bench Old Greek men in black bend stiff as sticks inward. share gritty laughter. . parcels. Around them flows the mall. over snugly knotted scarves the eyes wait as silent as slow cigarettes. The old Greek men in black chat on. Santa in a plywood sleigh Ho-Ho-Hos and doles out candy. each within his private winter needing ask no more if God exists or Heaven waits.
flames when no one‟s in the room to watch her crumble. * Giagia (pronounced YAW-yaw) is the Greek word meaning Grandma. bewilderment flicker like fireflies to leap out. silent. Solid at base. fear.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /30 Giagia * From the ominous corner where sofa arm and darkness meet. black crag of chipped and weathered flesh Giagia through twilight looms. skirt overhanging the void between harsh widow=s knees. fixed against sea green folds of velvet drape. feet flat spits of land eroded but unmoving in the wave-blue rug. pain. secure and strong or so the massive body says. Her fists are rocks slung in a shallow valley of taut crepe. But in the face under forever=s mourning band. .
Mavis. four children. Stopped it the morning I met him smack on my green garden bench. Who said the universe had to be paired off?CNo cream. Ever since. “We were closer than leaves: thirty-nine years. and one long winter to die.” Dora folded thin hands tight in her lavender lap.‟ Gave him my bestCthen got stuck knitting the nights by myself. “Two years I mourned Hugh. Why go out? Each footstep echoes. body fleshed as a peach.” “Forever!” barked Mavis. I hang in shadows. “Forever=s a long time. Sun lit his face gold. not a rack of bones like the end.” Dora looked past her and sighed. . “You look like a mislaid spoon. nothing seems real. That‟s enough. Pain! My beads begged him dead. my dear. Drat that man. Cancer cut off both legs.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /31 The Widows Pale among damask and flowers Dora passed Mavis the teapot and watched how her bone cup and saucer balanced on tweed knees. You=re free. he just sat. but I read in his eyes this was it: „Good-bye. “Dora. stop staring!” snapped Mavis.
” “Mother crocheted me that too.” shrugged Dora.” Mavis patted her hand.” muttered Mavis. threads hooked over a void but strong. “When DadCshe hugged me and said. Pour me more tea!” “Of course.” “Mother! You‟re sixty at least. steaming.” “Hush.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /32 Sunlight only reminds he‟s gone and I hover alone. “Little by little you‟ll find new patterns for outliving pain.‟ I wish she were here. would balance an empty cup. startled to find that she could and wondered when she. . grandchildren climbing both knees. “Sugar? Where is that spoon?” “Over there. we widows.” Dora fluttered a smile. . .” “Time . like Mavis. under the doily. and emptied another five minutes. Grow up.” “You sound like Mother. „We‟re like old lace.
pecking tea from styrofoam. fences straight as glass. six old ladies bob and cluck round an orange plastic mushroom. . white permed. and chrome gate secure that locks them spindly.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /33 Gathering Earnest chickens. Their barnyard a suburban mall (roosters roasted long ago) this hour sun‟s fluorescent bright. spectacled. darting-eyed (oh relief) together.
the Meek.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /34 Eileen and Jean AToday we want to dance six wrinkled years away. kick caution across the picket fence neighbours sniff over watering their own weeds. She misses that thread into brightness. powdered the shine from our loss. six years. Two girls a-blush at men. . you know. ringing up bills like chimes. . we‟ve kept our hemlines straight. Me? Fluorescent lights? Typewriters out-tapping clocks? I dreamed my daffodilled lawn. unbutton down to the rug. patient and neat. slow. Alzheimer‟s wasted Jean‟s Cshe used to smile from Eatons. paper Romances. wrapping politeness in tissue softer than Blue Grass. Cancer ate my Jack. . long walks down to the beach for tea. But today we have to dance!” . polishing filigreed silver. nodded. twist the radio loud with our living. folded our hands. tangle our tinted hair. sighed my solitude.
Familiar Faces / Private Grief /35
In Your Light (for Grandmother Wright) Without frame or lens to freeze this pine-narrowed bay, you are clear to me still as shallows glassing over ridged sand —the acid clarity of northern rains. Years have rippled your skin. Hands like rugged mounts fist through fishless water, thrusting cedar and spruce against sky‟s low, inverted bowl. Eyes almost transparent, you root along this rock. Through evergreen shade twisted feet scramble the slope, shore to stairway, step to shore, refilling an emptied pail. When you ease into the boathouse chair, pink and mauve pansies bob under white eaves. Sunned into morning, your chocolate home sways above water —with love. A finger begins curling, uncurling, a single strand of white hair. Memory‟s mainspring unwinds clear as the north‟s thin light. It was all forest, then, clustered thick to the sand, trees chopped down, one by one, another rock for the pilings dragged up. A few feet further each year the fiddlehead tangle flattened,
Familiar Faces / Private Grief /36
while lawn spread up the slope, a slow tide, till it stopped high enough for four children to run. Winters back in the city curled seven days‟ work round a week: all your kids helped with the store. The Great Depression? Contentment: hot food and enough hand-me-downs. You married for love and it stuck fast, on this rock above skyless water, building three more small chocolate houses. Petunias straightened the lawn. Cold as the sand you found him one morning. Forty-nine years . . . And now? You still summer here on your own. Water curls, uncurls at your door. Your granddaughter weeds her begonias. Others come by and go. You can‟t walk far, but your eyes absorb the transparent sky. There are islands far down the narrowing bay, little fists punching up rock, firs reaching into the wind. That‟s the way things are, and stay, in your light.
Familiar Faces / Private Grief /37
In Memory of Sophia Maniates “Be a garbage man if you want to, but be the best that you can,” urged the doctor‟s youngest daughter from an island of Greeks so stubborn when a man bit a block of soap believing it to be cheese, bubbling, he chewed the rest to swallow his money‟s worth. SophiaCyour name meant wisdom enough to teach at nineteen, enough, when your father passed on, to shy from Canada‟s cold. Sophia also meant yearning: months you lingered in sunshine while over the ocean a young man waited to make you his own. Once ringed for life, fine hands served onion rings in his diner, circled three children‟s misspellings, kept little fingers in tune. Your family grew, until letters stiffened fine hands and harder drove you across deep water lap after lap every morning, then to your countrymen, helping in churches, the courts, where over and over you turned broken English to Greek. Not even a numbing stroke kept them far from your bed. “Sophia, please help us,” many would swallow you still.
in wisdom.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /38 Long days. . For you. Rest well. clicked by. we shall all eat cheese. now lock. We will be the best that we can. Sophia.
. Breath is but the counterpoint to silences of time. . . unending. What matters then? What matters now? We hear the sounds and shut our ears in vain. haunts the inward ear. The simple song. .Familiar Faces / Private Grief /39 Private Grief Miserere Some day we die . . The notes ring forthCand fade .
Mists lift. or canyoned black behind dawn. crickets chirrup first light. twig into sky. Silence is relative. squirrelled quick between rustlings. Here nothing ceases. A finch flickers frost off a wing. shape. echoes not gone. remembered. who can believe in death stalking a pink horizon? High across hills. Leaves flutter the creek orange-red. in a boy‟s wilderness waking under the road. skipping under smoothed stones. 1970–1987) At sunrise. Here. is lost but. gilding blue rock and reed. .Familiar Faces / Private Grief /40 Elegy (in Memory of David Anderson. but transformed into an unknown tongue. humming silver to gold. Here is no space for endings. constantly gathers into itself and absorbs time. passing at dawn. Old bends into new. We live magnified in a great breath rustling over woodrushes. slide toward the creek. a thousand minuscule deaths. too much life sings. This wilderness under a road. and sings back a fluid permanence where nothing. also. Everything alters. ever. moment by moment changing. shadows run.
I shiver. . Lightning: how alone one from two can feel and. think of you deep some December night married to the ground. Your half of the bed waits white and cold.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /41 Glimpsing the Dark A wild wind howls cracks through my black window. will. one night.
Wordless. We have faced the waves‟ dark rim and are agreed: her ashes to be scattered among rushes. islands of stillness seaed in children‟s chatter ebbing down the hall. hers a drop or two. calm now. .Familiar Faces / Private Grief /42 Advance Elegies 1. . We sit. . the one . we drink comfort from each other. mine half full. river stones. My Mother and Me We watch dead leaves drift past her kitchen window. home behind long fields and for dust‟s hard return I. stir silence round bone coffee cups.
emptiness fills up the green club chair. fond words stuck hard as hereinafters signed and sealed. . and at once Father. tall. Dark voiced. a steward bows. in his green club chair white-haired Doubting Thomas tosses back one fact without question. His Will and Testament upon my lap. I wrap my sweater tighter. motions to the foyer. unhurried. ice upon dry lips. disappears.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /43 2. Our blue eyes meet and melt only slightlyCmourning misplaced among fine leather and cigars. sip my drink and shudder tasting dying‟s permanence. Father and I Raising rare old Scotch. I nod my silent toast.
suffer long a jaw that trembles. French braids. they bobbed spit curls. now rutted deeply. Faces from childhood. Wafting Parisian perfume. shells that totter towards death COh. gaunt and frail. “Prosit”.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /44 3. Under mistletoe or a birthday balloon they flashed down winks from cocktail glasses while across my innocent sky they gossiped in cigarette clouds. my gods. red. air rippled their “Exquisite!”. Such near-skeletons they totter towards death. ears hollow. we mourn each other. Blond. remembrance two-edged: to face my guides. brunette. snap short-tempered. mute chiaroscuro. chic amidst olive crepe. magnificent mother‟s friends. “M‟dear.” Our past. then with careful red lips praised or arched neat brows above a manicured warning. fox and silk shoulder pads. eyes blank stones. . Faces Faces from childhood.
down back roads to a Lutheran plot? Or Lizzy. forgotten in helplessness. poured tightly in a rocking chair. black soil heavy for pale city sons. potatoes. what do you watch in the starched-lace window passing above geranium leaves? Johnny. what does it come to: eighty-nine years work. hand-stitched clothes and three to a bed? Old woman. . leaning on gossip‟s lame housekeeper. lent white by the Ladies‟ Aid to wed the town‟s wan student-preacher. what does it mean to your old heart beating fainter than cedars‟ whispers down on the farm where hands never ached from five minutes crocheting and you read egg prices by candlelight? Grandmother. a Mennonite‟s daughter.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /45 Somewhere Between Grandmother in mail-order paisley. a family of ten struggling on sausage. and once a season written by grandchildren far away. spring‟s most parlour-prattled event? Or children on church stairs playing robbers. at mothers‟ strict requests. your cousin‟s half-brother in his high box borne. impiety that begs a few stiff switchings to keep Our Lord‟s afternoon tranquil for hymns you strain to hear? Grandmother.
patient dream of death? . plants and church into a lonely. past. set silent by the window: present.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /46 what do you see. or do they both diffuse somewhere between the paisley.
Familiar Faces / Private Grief /47 Reflections. remembering. dark. we listened in the sun: warm red bricks. I listen and grow hoarse. Sipping hot tea. a life. fields ploughed straight ahead. Old bricks sleep between tall yellow grass. . forest tangled. a warning. on Hearing a Crow On Grandma‟s farm crow‟s caw cut each morning. Past the stubble clouds roll over dawn. Now crow‟s caw breaks through huddled trees. cedar porch a womb.
bit of bone .Familiar Faces / Private Grief /48 Caw Caw a cry sandpapers fields glassy with sunlight Caw a rusty gate grates on its single hinge Caw a pail scrapes along white stable stones Caw rips out a throat —mouse-tufts.
Also turn to contemplate the blue boldness of cornflowers poking through bent rust. . Become beautiful againCZoeC patient in your slow coming Home. believe a path winds among weeds. one forgotten stone God‟s peculiar gift.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /49 Prayer for Grandma Zoe (dying in a nursing home) May you mend with dignity each falling day‟s despair. Find sparrow. followed even when unseen. raindrop. Lean against the swollen clouds pressing white upon your head.
We see you in their light. solid clarity telling our disbelief you are about to break. My house will fill with you opening my hand at each drawer. slowly swallowed our darkness. leaded vase. pretend love is a room words strip and pass on.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /50 Four Poems for Greta Ebel 1. What brooch can fasten this space white as remembering? One by one we have come. It is my turn to mirror your strength. lit nerves into calm. summoned to lighten parting. bowled crystal. each petal embroidered a different stitch to hang. smooth. Last Words You are giving yourself away piece by piece: ringed aquamarine. One by one we have come. white. unwilling last words you fold as we all wait. . You write down the watercolours I could not ask for. then turn to the tulips.
Use words and spell them any way I care! Who does not want to read me may forbear . . . you lovingly polish the Hummels and Rosenthal vase. . framed among Solingen watercolours. . let us raise an invisible tumbler of schnapps. although. you are thirty forever. brown double-breasted arm hooking your plump silk waist. Now you‟ve become brooches and pictures and rings. “ Indeed. . crooked streets jutting pink upper storeys‟ stubborn chins over cobblestones. . smiling up from the gold-rimmed photo of Max sleek as hair crème. snug by the window. . one last time. and underneath a starched housedress wear opals to feather dust from memories‟ crystal. .* “. husband. . I must pull back a vacant chair. I‟ll give my book a name of my own make. The Angel of Death Visits At your little white table. like you. Seraphim carried him heavenward unto Abram . And I have an ashtray that‟s made from your wings .” Admit the old days are gone. the past is a needlepoint rose. Our Lady of Lace-Doilied-Tables. refusing to crumble. I will whisper verses from Ringelnatz first. Frau Ebel. ashes ten years. . At his last shot. “. . “. . He died playing billiards.” You lean against the past for support.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /51 2. . Yes. In black and white.
* Excerpts from Kuttel Daddeldu. you know I must fold your jewelled small hands and never let go. of you: fine-spun white hair nodding in smoke-ringed laughter. You had no children. the Sailor by Joachim Ringelnatz (1883-1934). Thomas and Norman C. only friends. Marshall . . as coffee perks in their own little pots. one scooped of the pit.” My recitation is at an end.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /52 Hang onto life like an overfilled cream puff? But when the bone-handled knife cuts a peach. They will think. Never to dig out her bones again Nor touch them in their earthly bed For one must leave the dead to rest. You pretend not to see the closing book. “. . you know I am cold. translated from German by Frank E. both halves fall back. but you know I am here. or sunlight catches on window-sill cacti.
a river winding deeper through white days. My mother wraps herself gold and brown crocheted into afghan affection. Along the crystal vase my sister hears you sing. reeds. You are pearls in her ears. She dreams a pink fraulein. ping beneath her fingernails. daisies. three wine glasses poised. The rest of us watch for signs. lost roads: an old worldCand you. The Hummel boy stomps homeward. green music among the quiet frames of watercolour towns‟ black-inked bridges. young. little basket filling up with dusk. Inheritances Like a clear blue stone your memory is set in silver in my house. hangs rushes. Your love embroiders pillows flowering on my bed. only you have gone before.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /53 3. We all walk that way. .
Familiar Faces / Private Grief /54 4. On February afternoons. No moon ever rises from the west. godchildren. round gold-framed sepia husband. coffee perked us together. . . . At Christmas. I sat and watched. a glass shelf layered with dust. through the kitchen archway hair like spun sugar bobbed above flour-white hands grating nutmeg. to where we sat by the screen door and sipped lemonade. Without her. . legs blackened. At Greta‟s In August. Silver threaded through yellow. wallpaper roses blue as her eyes meandered beneath the chandelier past Hummel figurines fishing the top glass shelf. Mauve restitched her years alone. Darkened roses twist and die. a thousand fish mouths. mind. Hummels shattered. In June. As sun crept across her sitting-room window embroidery grew in our laps. our laughter into a silver bowl. On the tongue bitter coffee lingers.
Bright and shivering now as you step into air know that we watch and regret—and fear for time spins us all inside out at its whim. the secret. Between winks. Yet deep in the dark neutron is zinging an infinitesimal spark that physicists whisper at once to both be and not-be.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /55 Last Days (in memory of Bets Reynolds) Poised on the rim can you see a far morning rising? Do your eyes turn fragrant with longing to drift in the petalled whiteness of peace? Can you taste the dew of undoing clearer than any earthly transforming? Does a rushing light lift your flesh on a motionless wind? When you hear the stars hum you are close to the centre. one by one will we find you waiting? .
Familiar Faces / Private Grief /56 Gone (for Doug) gone the baldness and boldness of it the round. metallic truth of gone stuns like a gong. Earth‟s edge every year sharper peering at space we taste a black hole . shiny. struck with blunted love the numbness of gone the forgetting that a familiar hump in the feel of our world isn‟t the gaping after a finger snaps on off white black now and for(n)ever an encyclopaedia poofed into dust —shocking! in time we forget a little (we never recover) gone heel before toe teeters.
makes living kinder .Familiar Faces / Private Grief /57 swallow unending and alone what comforts the naked moment? we all face it in turn dying. if we reflect.
zero. they nod at each other. . . Eyes ice. . two. dark combed and pressed. fatherless at fifteen.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /58 Visitation By the wall. voices skating slow. the final score: “. .” Hard words no one can pass. they crouch. as if replaying shots and penalties from last night=s hockey game except thin hands fiddle empty at the net. on overstuffed chairs. . to think that this is all a human life comes to .
bend dark heads and in a sudden rush of wide black wings sweep the new-flown spirit to their midst. and puzzled as a faded photograph cocks a sparrow head in curiosity. . cluster closer. softly nodding words of consanguinity. Sombre they assemble. Remote she watches us at graveside weep. mists and umber forests past remembering. aged aunts and uncles of a gnarled tree spreading far back across old meadows.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /59 The Funeral (for Aunt Mary) Great comfort flocks from family: stately birds descend.
An aftershock of sparks flies up singeing his skin. . the edge reminds how far. far down a figure has disappeared. Angelicide Wipe wings off emptied sky. Cpromises unkept too long: she‟s gone.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /60 Mourner Invisible dark glasses can‟t shut the fright from his eyes. Fog thins and under his feet.
Sunday black oxfords are hiding bunions under the bed. Instead . On Sundays a shave and a prayer ease aches gnawing deep in stiff bone. dustcovers washed. Embroidered prayers hang off walls. Shut the latch on the door. No more. I didn‟t hear a footfall.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /61 Memoriam (for Uncle Louis) Uncle. I saw the spare room. Sunlight withdraws behind lace. No more. the chairs can sit still. comb and hairpins scatter. The blue quilt stiffens. The towel is blank. and empty jam jars needn‟t care. But now looking over the garden? Beans and tomatoes have fled. yard mown. groceries left on the porch. the table untroubled. Pitcher and bowl shun each other. The woodstove is done with the stewpot.CUnfair? Who can say if a house loves its woman? Does a cup or a spoon feel despair? Yes. still unread. No more. yes. Sip your tea while it‟s hot. a letter consoling the mailbox. The clothesline has fallen. Past the vase brush. No. Roses defected to ragweed. From each one take the offer: love in a held hand. We go forward a breath at a time.
No more. No more.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /62 of an apron bent over cool chives. Years yawn behind and before. No more. an old man stirring tea bends his head. .
awkwardly here. unable to stop the moon‟s sad. never quite reaching yesterday‟s open door When night collapses sleep with choking half-hours. . like Sisyphus‟ stone grinding down yet another hill of weak muscle. a long-neglected friend Time to count off diminishing days with the tattered grace of those who accept what cannot be changed or brought back from vanished power and beauty again. fumbles across bedside darkness to snatch one more small round of relief It is time to relent. sure rise. look death in the face.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /63 Three Poems for My Father 1. here. We stand in your thinning shadow. We watch you curl and fold. a paper slowly consumed by cold. It is time. Have courage. but for the rasping cough that spits insistence louder and louder against defeat. shrinking toward suffocation‟s last thick breath When climbing four steps exhausts. When When mowing one ragged row triumphs over lungs clogged with mucous. but shaking hands limp at our sides. thick flames silently.
Stop our clocked hearts if you can. after taxes. no tip on the Absolute. breath sour to lukewarm wine? Send back the overripe camembert. The dining room closes at midnight. Demand the bill be tallied again. Why must bones snap brittle as crusts. Flag down the maître d‟ with a handkerchief napkin.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /64 2. Death creeps over the tablecloth nonetheless. 77th Birthday Dinner The chandelier trembles. gnaws on the limp yellow rose. jab a tarnished fork in the oysterless shell. Refuse to let the captain pull back your chair. . Cling to the velvet-flocked walls holding back death. nibbles your fingertips. Rattle your cup at the curdled cream.
They have come to partake of you. nod toward the transparent multitudes clutching no cracked loaves. Day by day they press closer. reaching long quiet arms to fold you into themselves. February 1985 This is the end. by degrees. There are no choices left. Good-bye. good-bye. no slippery fishes. Thin and frail you are wedged deeper into their midst. . Soon you will fill their invisible eyes. This is the end Cthe slow swallow of memories.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /65 3. their white calm. Slowly you turn away from me.
The whole house swings. sucks the corners smooth of dust. cushions poof. Do not block the frozen glass. Not one escapes its waiting edge. Let the ice-pick stars scratch. one darkened lung.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /66 The Green Room (after the death of my father) Walls hung high with tilted dreams that reach into the dark and dance. the dust twirls high. Dreams spin fat with sound. The silent world outside is sharp. The green room breathes deeper and deeper. pumping the furniture round. Pictures jiggle frame upon frame. Blow a bigger circle back. . dance. in. Breathe deepCoh. swaying the children over their beds. the green room breathes out. Outside the moon-cold world grows twigs. Tonight no squat brown china lamp pokes light through a broken shade. rolling them into sleep. Do not pin the curtains fast. The silver world outside is cracked. dance.
Beside this house checkered gingham dreams eased from endless peeling old potatoes. Sun embraces potted flowers on rough window sills. in this earth now rest. I too have survived cold brittle to the bone. buds. I too am thankful. They too felt spring sun weariness from hearts. Bricks blush. . swells fields. her mother and grandmother blossomed. greening orchards. wiping eggs. aches from tightened hands. I too am wild when buds bump bark and black field ants swarm up a crumbling porch. dappled ceilings celebrate: hatchings. Brightness flaps from curtain lace. My own. but as sun marries rooms. sighs spill over grass. mellow woodwork. and joy hatches. ripened. Each year as hills run wet I stand and watch house burst shutters.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /67 Home Going As spring rushes down grey snow running hills to rivulets. round this weary house worn shutters sigh and swing out wide.
Familiar Faces / Private Grief /68 sudden yearnings press for home. Slowly I turn my back. reminded. wiser: my springs lead other ways through other winters. a past. .
. why weep? Count our white crocuses fingertipping up. children.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /69 Afterlife When we lie beneath the earth.
we dream beneath clouds‟ cold definitions.Familiar Faces / Private Grief /70 Ancestors Easy as leaves mound the low-trunked hollows. . as apples wrinkle under black twigged snow. Earth‟s slow dance unwinds us without sound.
Familiar Faces / Private Grief /71 .FINIS – ISBN 978-0-920835-38-8 .
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